(1.) This writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India is filed seeking a mandamus declaring the action of
the 3rd respondent-Station House Officer of Kankipadu Police
Station, Vijayawada City, in registering the FIR in Crime
No.239/2021 for the offences punishable under Ss. 120B, 403, 408, 420 and 477A of IPC and under Sec. 66C read with Sec. 43 of the Information Technology Act, 2008,
against the petitioners on the basis of the report lodged
by the de facto complainant, who is the 4th respondent,
as unconstitutional and consequently to set aside the same.
(2.) Facts of the prosecution case, germane to dispose of this writ petition, as set out in the FIR, may be stated as
(a) Varsity Education Management Private Limited (VEMPL, for brevity) is a company registered under the Companies Act, 1956. It has been doing business in providing education and coaching for competitive examinations to the students and also rendering educational services to various institutions under the name and style "Sri Chaitanya" through its various branches. The de facto complainant is one of the directors of the said VEMPL. It is stated that VEMPL over the past 10 years and Sri Chaitanya over the past 35 years developed intellectual property which includes academic curriculum, study material, teaching methods, teaching points, pupil's activity, teacher's activity, questioning hypothesis, evaluation, teacher's ability, programmes, question bank, academic knowledge, experience driven programmes by utilizing faculty and resources throughout the country by spending several crores of rupees and stored and saved the said intellectual property for exclusive use of the said educational institutions in the hard disks of the computer systems in an encrypted storage by installing the best antivirus software with a strong password to prevent hacking or gaining access to the outsiders.
(b) Except the Executive Dean, Dean or Data Analyst of the branches of VEMPL, the said data stored in the computer system is not accessible to any other person.
(c) The said VEMPL, in the brand name of Sri Chaitanya, has established Gosala branches at Gosala campus of Vijayawada in the year 2014 and has been imparting education and giving coaching etc., to the students. The management of VEMPL, Sri Chaitanya group appointed accused 1 to 3 i.e. Mr. V.Narendra Babu (accused No.1) as an Executive Dean, Sri N.Srinivasa Rao (accused No.2) as a Dean and Sri G.Balakrishna Prasad (accused No.3) as a Data Analyst in the year 2014. They have entered into Employment Agreements with VEMPL which are being renewed from time to time and it is stated that they are still in force. Therefore, they have domain over the entire infrastructure including the computers, hardware and software and they got exclusive access to them. The accused 1 to 3 have agreed in their Employment Agreements that they shall not use the confidential information entrusted to them by the employer at any time directly or indirectly to have personal commercial advantage or to do anything which is detrimental to the business or activities of the employer in any manner and that the said concepts, ideas etc., written or electronically developed by the employee during the course of his employment, exclusively belong to the company and also gave an undertaking to keep confidentiality of the same. Therefore, reposing confidence in the accused 1 to 3, the company has entrusted the said confidential and valuable computer data and details of the students in good faith to the accused 1 to 3 by providing passwords of the computer systems to them for the purpose of using the said data exclusively for the purpose of running the educational institutions, establishments and schools belonging to the employer and for using the same to impart education to the students studying in Gosala branches of Sri Chaitanya group.
(d) It is stated that while so, accused 1 to 3 stopped attending duties from 16/5/2021 abruptly and as such suspicion arose and when the computer infrastructure and software particulars were checked, it is noticed that accused 1 to 3 have misused and abused their position as employees of the said educational institutions and their access to the computer systems which were entrusted to them and dishonestly and mala fidely entered into a conspiracy to steal the entire data to use it for their personal gain. Therefore, in pursuance of their common intention, they in collusion with each other, to have wrongful gain for themselves and to cause wrongful loss to the company and its institutions have misused the passwords of the computer systems of the institutions and gained access to the exclusive data of the educational institutions of the company and have stolen the entire data stored in the computer systems i.e. curriculum, study material, teaching methods, teaching points, teacher's activity, questioning hypothesis, evaluation, question bank, programmes, academic knowledge experience, driven programmes, devised by the company worth of Rs.100.00 Crores. They have also stolen the complete student data relating to the students of the educational institutions of the company.
(e) It is stated that the educational institutions of the company have completed 90% of the syllabus by 15/5/2021 and only revision syllabus remained uncompleted. So, after stealing the data of the company, accused 1 to 3 have floated a fictitious institution by imitating the name of Gosala branches of the company deceptively similar to the same under the name and style "Gosalites Medical Academy" at Poranki Village. Accused 1 to 3 started using the said stolen data in the said Medical Academy in criminal breach of trust and they started luring the lecturers of the VEMPL company by offering bribes and they also induced the students to join their institution by giving advertisements stating that the students need not pay the balance fee payable to the educational institutions of the VEMPL company and that the entire balance 10% of syllabus revision will be completed on payment of Rs.6,000.00 per month to the company floated by accused 1 to 3. Accused 1 to 3 started using the same study material, curriculum, question bank, programmes etc., for completion of the said 10% revision by conducting zoom classes to the students by misusing the software data stolen from the educational institutions of the company. It is stated that they have also sent Short Message Services (SMSs) to several students through the mobile phone numbers which are listed in para-10 of the FIR informing the students that they need not pay the balance fee to the educational institutions of the company and they should remit a sum of Rs.6,000.00 per month towards fee to the account of Gosalites Medical Academy and accordingly some of the innocent students remitted the said sum of Rs.6,000.00 per month to the said account.
(f) Therefore, it is stated that accused 1 to 3 dishonestly and fraudulently committed theft of the data including the hard copies of study material, question banks etc., and misappropriated the same and converted the same for their use by using the same in their fictitious educational institution floated in the name of Gosalites Medical Academy.
(g) It is stated in the descriptive particulars of the accused in the F.I.R. that A4 is the Vice-Principal and Partner and A5 is the Admin Officer and Partner of the said Gosalites Medical Academy.
(h) The aforesaid report was registered as a case in Crime No.239/2021 by the Sub Inspector of Police, Kankipadu Police Station, for the offences punishable under Ss. 120B, 403, 408, 420 and 477A of IPC and under Sec. 66 read with Sec. 43 and Sec. 66C of the Information Technology Act, 2008 (the I.T. Act, for brevity).
(i) It is the said FIR which is now sought to be set aside/quashed in this writ petition.
(3.) The 3rd respondent-Station House Officer of Kankipadu Police Station, who registered the FIR, filed
counter affidavit stating that the 4th respondent, by name
M.Murali Krishna, lodged a report with him stating that he is
the director of VEMPL, which is doing business in providing
classes and coaching for competitive examinations to the
students and educational services to various institutions
under its branch "Sri Chaitanya" and other branches and
Sri Chaitanya College established Gosala branches at Gosala
campus in 2014 and that they have developed data relating to
academic curriculum, study material, teaching methods,
question bank etc., by spending crores of rupees and stored
the same in their hard disk of their computer and that the
petitioners, who are accused 1 to 3 who are the employees of
the said Sri Chaitanya group who got domain over the said
data and both the computer hardware and software and that
they all conspired together and stolen the aforesaid data of
VEMPL and started making use of the said data in their
educational institution to have wrongful gain for them and
wrongful loss to VEMPL. It is stated that he has registered
the said report as a case in Crime No.239/2021 for the
offences punishable under Ss. 120B, 403, 408, 420 and
477A of IPC and under Sec. 66 read with Sec. 43 and under Sec. 66C of the Information Technology Act, 2008
and has been investigating the same and that about four
witnesses were examined and their statements were recorded.
It is stated that it is mandatory on the part of the
Investigating Agency to register the FIR when the report
discloses commission of a cognizable offence as held by the
Apex Court in the case of Lalita Kumar v. State of U. P., (2014) 2 SCC 1
and as per the ratio of the said judgment, preliminary enquiry
is required to be conducted only in (a) matrimonial, family
disputes, (b) commercial offences, (c) medical negligence cases
and (d) corruption cases, and the present case is not falling in
the category of above cases and as such he has registered the
FIR and investigating the same. It is stated that the
investigation is at preliminary stage and if the Police are
allowed to continue the investigation that they would be able
to file final report under Sec. 173 of Cr.P.C after collecting
evidence and that the petitioners cannot maintain the writ
petition to quash the proceedings at the initial stage of the
investigation as the case is not falling within the parameters
laid down by the Apex Court in State of Haryana v. Bhajan
Lal, 1992 Supp (1) SCC 335 to quash the FIR. Therefore, it is prayed to vacate the
interim order and allow him to proceed with the investigation.;